By Rachel Williams
Why walk when you can run? That’s the attitude one seven-year-old is embracing as she steers a course to one day represent the country in the sport.
Sydney’s Emily Hayes is a race running protege who is passionate about the pursuit.
Race running involves a custom-built tricycle without pedals that allows people with impaired balance the ability to move by themselves.
The freedom and flexibility it has given Emily, who has cerebral palsy, can’t be underestimated.
“I love that I can run very fast and run with my friends,” Emily says.
“I can use it at Little Athletics, at the park and at school. Everyone should try race running, it is so much fun!” Seeing her daughter shine in thesporting arena is a joy for her mum Kylie, dad Brett and brother Henry, 3, after she had such a challenging start to life.
“When Emily was born she didn’t take her first breath for 47mins, suffered four seizures and her heart beat wasn’t heard for six minutes,” Kylie recalls.
“Once she was stabilised, Emily was transferred by air ambulance to The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. They cooled her to 33.5 degrees to help reduce the swelling to her brain and give her the best chance of recovery. This happened for 72 hours, then she was slowly warmed again and didn’t have any more seizures.
“An MRI showed damage to an area of her brain which would compromise movement, at this stage we didn’t know in what ways it would affect her but the doctors mentioned cerebral palsy.
“Each day Emily showed improvements and after three weeks in hospital we were able to take our baby girl home. Physiotherapy started when Emily was one month old with speech therapy not long after.”
She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy before her first birthday. She uses a walker at school and outside but does sometimes walk on her own – the most steps she’s taken is 290. Emily also uses a wheelchair to avoid fatigue on long journeys.
Kylie says that she’s always amazed at her daughter’s tenacity and courage.
“Emily has always had so much determination; we saw it from a very early age. Her never-give-up attitude has seen her complete 12 blocks of intensive therapy in addition to her weekly therapy,“ Kylie explains.
“These traits have been a big part of her progress and what make us so proud of her.
“Emily is always willing to give things a go and understands that sometimes she just needs to do things a little differently to other people. She almost always has a huge smile on her face too.
“Recently the biggest challenge is the emotional side. 99% of the time she is a very positive person and doesn’t let her cerebral palsy get in her way, but occasionally she expresses how she wants to walk like everyone else. As a parent it’s a hard thing to hear. If her confidence is off it makes everything harder too.”
Emily is at her most confident when she is running, having started Little Athletics when she was 6.
“It was a bit hard in my walker,” Emily admits.
“I had trialled the RaceRunner with Dejay Medical at my school and I loved it. They came to Little Athletics one weekend and I used a RaceRunner for the whole day. It made things easier and I was able to run faster,” she says.
“It was a special moment when I got my own RaceRunner. My wonderful school principal applied for one and the Blaxland Local Schools Community Fund funded it. It was a very exciting day when I got it. They didn’t tell me it had arrived and surprised me in the office.”
Since then, Emily hasn’t looked back.
“In February I got to run in a race. It was called the BBB Run and I ran 500m in my RaceRunner. Dad ran beside me but I was too fast for him! I won a real medal,” she proudly recalls.
“Little Athletics will be starting again soon so I am looking forward to that. I hope I can run in another race soon. One day I would like to run for Australia.”
Emily is a strong advocate for the sport and encourages people to access “come and try” days, which can be booked through www.racerunning.org or via Dejay Medical, an Australian-owned family business, now managed by the second generation of the Mason family.
The family has been helping families in need of equipment for over 30 years, to improve their quality of life and achieve their goals.
Dejay has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and more than 30 partners throughout Australia and New Zealand, and RaceRunners form part of the business’s selected rehabilitation and mobility equipment range.
“We are the only stockist of the RaceRunner in Australia and after we launched in late 2018 we have sold hundreds, which is a lot considering it is a new sport so it is great to see lots of clubs getting involved with it which is very exciting,” Dejay spokesman Steve Andrew says.
Steve says Dejay is proud to be a founding partner of Race Running Australia and says it’s a great sport to be involved with.
“We are working together to grow the sport in Australia, and we are also working with partners in New Zealand to kick off the sport there,” Steve says.
“We offer a free trial service with you and your therapist where we measure and fit a RaceRunner to suit your needs.
“Our team has been trained by Connie Hansen herself (see breakout) when she visited Australia in 2018.
“We will visit your therapist, school or home to trial a range of sizes and supports to ensure you can get the most out your bike.”